Friday, January 18, 2008

The First Book Bust of the New Year

Hmm, what can I say today that would improve upon the silence? Not much! I'm enjoying my last days of freedom before the Writing Center opens on Tuesday and my days grow from a T/Th 8-1:00 to a MWF 11:00-3:00 and T/Th 8:00-3:00. Still not a bad schedule, I realize, but I've been enjoying the extra time to work on my writing and read.

Speaking of reading...

Tuesday I left my copy of Great Expectations in my office, and I had absolutely no intention of going to work on Wednesday when a) I didn't have to b) it's a 40-minute drive there and back and gas prices are stupidly high. So, I just had to make arrangements for a short, temporary book to read in the between time.

I picked up Ben Katchor's much-praised graphic novel, The Jew of New York, which I chose for Dewey's Graphic Novels challenge after hearing about it in a multi-ethnic literature survey course I guest-lectured in a year or two ago. It's a short book, only 94 pages, and given my usual speed at reading graphic novels, I expected to finish it over the course of Wednesday afternoon and evening between hanging out with B. and teaching a class.

Not so much.

This graphic novel drags like no other I've ever read. Seriously, I'm amazed at how much I dislike it. Especially since Katchor, a cartoonist for the New York Times, The New Yorker, Metropolis Magazine, etc. is highly praised in every comics forum I've ever run across. The Comics Journal, various reputable 'zines, my grad school professor who works in Jewish lit and multi-ethnic studies ALL praise him like he's the high priest of innovative comics. He's a talented guy...apparently.

I am, in fact, woman enough to admit that maybe...likely...I just don't get it. Perhaps I don't know enough about Judaism to get the clever metaphors he's throwing out or something. Stacked on top of that, is my admission that I generally don't really care for absurdist literary works, and Katchor's work is highly absurd. Some of the characters include a disgraced kosher slaughterer, an importer of religious articles, a man with plans to carbonate Lake Erie, and an anonymous man in a rubber suit. At first glance, this sounds like something I would enjoy. I enjoy weird characters, but not when they just wander around, masturbate, sleep on lawns and skin beavers (hmmm, maybe I should spend more time examining the sexual implications).

The Jew of New York is essentially a series of character sketches, disjointed threads, that supposedly all come together in the end. How do I know? I consulted Google. I was so thrown by how much I dislike this book and don't get its "greatness" that I went a'Googling for nuggets to keep me going.

Until further notice, I'm going to assume that this book will come together in some thoughtful, meaningful, genius way that makes me admire it. But for now, I'm just sort of dazed.

Stay tuned...

Addendum: 10:56 A.M....

I finished it. I sort of get what Katchor was going for. It's all very weird and ironic and tongue-in-cheek, and it was just painful to read. Watch for a possible review on BiblioBuffet in the upcoming weeks as my column gets going. If I can figure out what on earth to say about it that's cohesive.

Rating: 4/10 - Ugg.


  1. Is it mean to have a dark thrill that I'm not the only one who's already read a crapshoot in January? How odd that a graphic novel, of all books, could drag. I like weird characters too but they have to go beyond caricature to justify the weirdness, I think. Otherwise you're just throwing stuff out there hoping it will stick.

  2. Oh no, I hate the first book bust. I have read one graphic novel for the challenge so far (still need to review it) but it was awesome. And, please post when your review on BiblioBuffet goes up! :)

  3. If I get off my ample behind and do the review I owe you and pay for postage would you be willing to part with the book for a week? I know more about Judaism than most (not through heritage but through being a total geek with Jewish friends and ...) How about I do the review and then ask again? Or beg? Yes, that sounds good. I suppose if I don't do the review this weekend I'll be screwed as my semester starts on Tuesday!

  4. Imani, not mean at all. It thrills me that you've run across a stinker already, too. I thought it odd re: a graphic novel that drags as well. Most of the time the combination of text and image is thrilling for me, but this one just fell completely flat. Katchor uses a lot of metaphor, and the ending really does help bring some of the madness into focus, but it just didn't blow my skirt up like it did all the critics. Ahh well. I guess we can't always agree.

    Iliana, I can't wait to hear which one it was and read your review! And I will definitely keep y'all informed of the BiblioBuffetness.

    LOL, Sam! The book is yours. No fear. I was going to list it on BookMooch, but I'd be just as thrilled to send it to you and get your reaction. I hope you like it more than I did!

  5. Ahh, crap, Samola! I didn't realize I'd already listed it on Bookmooch when I said you could have it. Someone snapped it up last night, so I need to go ahead and send it to that person. Sorry bebe!


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